BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — SALEM — Many people know Danvers resident Mike Ward, 45, as the head baseball coach at Salem State University, but many in the benefits world know him as an entrepreneur who started his own company and has helped others grow.
Three years ago, he joined Dedham-based Insight Performance as its president. Insight is a 20-person human resources consulting firm for small to mid-sized businesses, founded by Nancy Mobley in 1995.
Ward has 18 years’ experience in employee benefits, brokerage and consulting, including starting his own company, Harbour Benefits of Salem, in 2001. He sold the business to Eastern Bank in 2004 and was a former leader of its benefits group before going to work for Insight three years ago.
Now he is branching out, starting Insight Insurance Agency, based at the Enterprise Center in Salem. The new business will allow Insight to offer one-stop shopping, offering small and medium-sized businesses both employee benefits and human resources know-how. Darren Ambler, 41, of Salem, a former co-worker and friend of Ward’s, will head up the new insurance agency. Ambler, a former senior vice president at Eastern Benefits Group, has 15 years of experience in the field.
He’ll be making a presentation on the Affordable Care Act to the North Shore Chamber of Commerce tomorrow at 8 a.m. in the chamber’s boardroom, 5 Cherry Hill Drive, Suite 100, Danvers.
How did your work with Insight come about?
Ward: “I left Eastern realizing I am really an entrepreneur, and it was a good stretch there, and it was time for me to look for a new venture. ... I’d always done a lot of business with Insight when I was on the benefits side, so Darren and I and our firm would do the employee brokerage benefits piece or the consulting piece, and if there was HR consulting needs ... we would bring in Insight, because they were an excellent firm. ... In 2010, I became the business partner (with Insight), and we have been growing ever since.”
When did you make the strategic decision to branch out to employee benefits?
Ward: “We had a lot of clients and companies coming to us and saying, “Geez, it’s great you are doing the HR consulting. ... Can you do our employee benefits?” Which is a natural extension of human resources consulting. ... We launched the agency in July, so it’s new. Darren joined us in August to really run the practice.”
Ambler: “It’s really the evolution in the employee benefits space. It’s going more and more towards the HR consulting components of what you do. Ten, 15 years ago, your focus was on brokering the benefits, really helping them buy their insurance products, but now it’s helping them comply with different laws. The health care reform law, ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) laws ... It really runs the gamut of what they should be thinking about.”
This is a crowded space, right?
Ambler: “There are definitely several competitors in this space, but what sets us apart is we are in the HR consulting space with both feet, and I really cannot think of any major competitors who can say they are in there with both feet.”
Ward: “There are large national consulting firms that do the larger companies, but there is really nobody, at least in our region, that we know of, that provides this type of solution (to small to mid-market firms). So, we saw significant opportunity because of that.”
How do you balance being an entrepreneur and a baseball coach?
Ward: “Two things, I would say, three things: I don’t sleep much; I am very fortunate to have great people in my life, whether it’s my wife, who is very supportive and a great mom; my business partner, Nancy (Mobley); and then to be fortunate to have Darren come on board. ... All these good people, including my assistant coaches at Salem State ... I don’t look at what I do here — employee benefits or the coaching, either one of them — as a job. Every day, I wake up and I am excited about what I’m going to do.”
What’s your prediction for the Red Sox?
Ward: “World Series, all the way.”
Ambler: “I like it, too, I do.”
Ward: “Good team karma, unbelievable. And great starting pitching.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.